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Peter Jensen’s dangerous proposal

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Not every topic is worthy of debate. In fact some are downright dangerous.

On Mondays’ Q&A program, Anglican archbishop Peter Jensen repeatedly called for having a national discussion on the supposed lower life expectancy of homosexuals.

This issue already made headlines last week when the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL)’s Jim Wallace claimed homosexuality was a bigger health risk than smoking.

Whilst Jensen distanced himself from the inflammatory nature of Wallace’s comments, he agreed with the basic premise that homosexuality is itself dangerous. Jensen was careful to claim that his intention wasn’t to demonise gay people, but to start a much needed conversation.

Although he put forward his case in a seemingly polite and sincere manner, what Jensen is actually proposing has the potential to be extremely damaging to the LGBTI community.

The claims that gays have a lower life expectancy, which have been repeated ad nauseam by various anti-gay groups in the United States, stem from a 1997 Canadian study which found the life expectancy for gay and bi-sexual men in Vancouver was up to twenty years lower than other men.

However, as Crikey pointed out, the data for this study was collated at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s, well before effective treatments that significantly prolong the life of HIV positive patients. This means that the study’s conclusions are not a reliable signifier of the current life expectancy for gay and bisexual men.

This has been pointed by the study’s authors. So incensed were they at the way their research was twisted ‘to suggest that gay and bisexual men live an unhealthy lifestyle that is destructive to themselves and to others’, that they released a statement way back in 2001 to set the record straight:

 The aim of our research was never to spread more homophobia…In our paper, we demonstrated that in a major Canadian centre, life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 21 years less than for all men…if we were to repeat this analysis today the life expectancy of gay and bisexual men would be greatly improved…As we have previously reported there has been a threefold decrease in mortality in Vancouver as well as in other parts of British Columbia.

The fact remains that gays are at a higher than average risk of suicide, but as was pointed out by the other Q&A panellists, this is almost universally considered to be a result of homophobia rather than any intrinsic aspect of being gay.

Jensen’s words are dangerous because they are attempting to start a debate where none actually exists. Publically announcing that homosexuality is inherently destructive when there is no scientific basis for such a claim places an already marginalised community at even greater risk of discrimination.

It is also an excellent way to try and shut down the gay marriage debate. How can gay marriage be acceptable when simply being gay is likely to kill you?

Stirring up these sorts of non-debates is a favoured tactic of groups who oppose what the scientific community already accepts.

Climate change, for instance, is accepted by 97% of scientists as a real phenomenon caused, at least partly, by human activities. And yet, despite this scientific consensus, climate change sceptics continue to inflame the ‘debate’ by insisting the science is ‘still out.’

Almost invariably, when the issue is discussed, what we actually see is not scientists debating but lay sceptics refuting the science, many of whom stand to personally profit by delaying the implementation of climate change policies.

If we are still arguing about whether climate change is even real, then we don’t actually have to do anything about it.

The same goes for evolution. It is commonly accepted by scientists that there is more evidence establishing the theory of evolution than that of gravity. Gravity.  And yet, religious commentators  in the US insist it is ‘only a theory’. By completely misrepresenting the concept of scientific theories, they decry the teaching of evolution in schools and insist on children being exposed to the ‘other side’, i.e. creationism, as if the two were equally legitimate. Consequently, many American children grow up thinking that religious mythology has scientific credibility and is a viable alternative to evolution. .

For the record, in the United States (the country which has a higher degree of belief in creationism than any other), a 1991 Gallup poll found that out of 480, 000 scientists working in life and earth sciences, only 700 were creationists. That’s just .015%.

Likewise, Jim Wallace’s inflammatory words and Peter Jensen’s softly spoken reiteration could spell a dangerous new era in the homophobic agenda to deny gays marriage and civil rights. Their attempts to stir up debate when none actually exists is a smokescreen designed to cast further negativity on homosexuality and derail that community’s ongoing fight to end discrimination against them.

Don’t be too taken in by Peter Jensen’s politeness. He may speak softly, but he wields a mighty big stick.

Written by Ruby

September 14, 2012 at 7:02 am

The best article on the Akin ‘legitimate rape’ travesty.

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So, there really isn’t much to say on this that hasn’t been said many times over, but I wanted to share what I think is the most astute commentary on the whole incident. From Ilyse Hogue at The Nation:

The Twittersphere went nuts yesterday after a video was posted of Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin expressing some jaw-dropping views on rape and abortion in an interview with local news:

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

The short-term consequences of such an incendiary remark are predictable: Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill will trumpet the remark to her own political advantage, donations will spike to her campaign and the party committees will offer the remark as one more proof point of the GOP’s war on women. But the impact of Akin’s effort to redefine the terms of this debate reaches beyond this one race. In the multidimensional chess that shapes public opinion, the game is less about individual elections and more about a sustained effort to mainstream radical ideas. In the case of denying women control over their lives, there’s evidence that the bad guys may be winning the long-game.

Akin was Paul Ryan’s co-sponsor on a House bill just last year banning the use of federal funds for abortion except in cases of “forcible rape.” This term seemed laughably redundant since all rape, by definition, is forced. But this redefinition of rape was deceptively sinister. Statutory rapists often use coercion but not physical force. If the measure had passed, a 13-year-old emotionally manipulated into having sex with an older friend or relative would no longer be able to use Medicaid to terminate a resulting pregnancy. Nor would her parents be able to use their tax-exempt health savings fund.

While the measure was defeated, conversation around it introduced skepticism about whether all rape is created equal and what distinctions should be recognized by law. Instead of making him politically toxic, Ryan’s support of the pioneering forcible rape measure likely made him a more attractive vice presidential candidate to a Romney campaign needing to energize the right-wing base.

And whether or not Akin loses this cycle, his comments have already escalated the stakes. In his world view, the rape victim’s body will be the ultimate judge of whether a crime has taken place. If she gets pregnant, by Akin’s standard, her reproductive organs consented to the pregnancy, so she must have consented to the sex. This bizarre standard of innocence is reminiscent of medieval Europe, where the men in authority held the similarly scientific view that women guilty of witchcraft floated in water while innocent women would drown. Being cleared of witchcraft was of course not much consolation to the drowned women, though they at least got to skip being burned at the stake.

Akin’s comments appear an awful lot like step one in the GOP’s favorite two-step tactic to redefine the world around us: first, more extreme figures voice opinions that would never fly from more politically palatable ones. The right-wing echo chamber picks up those opinions in the guise of news coverage. Then, the more politically acceptable candidates shift their rhetoric to acknowledge the newly accepted opinion as reality.

 

Do go over and read the whole thing. It’s phenomenal.

Written by Ruby

August 21, 2012 at 6:31 am

The (real) problem with PETA

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So we all know how feminists love to hate PETA, right? For years PETA has been ignoring the pleas from the feminist blogosphere to quite sexualising women in order to push their animal liberation message. Feminist writers often complain that PETA sacrifices women in order to promote animal rights. But what if that’s only the half of it? This is an excerpt of my latest piece, which was published on Daily Life yesterday. Just as an aside, I’ve been keen to write for these guys for months and was super excited to get the opportunity:

A 2010 campaign saw long-time supporter Pamela Anderson dressed in a bikini, her body depicted as a butcher’s meat chart complete with labels such as ‘breast’, ‘rump’ and so on. The caption read, ‘All animals have the same parts. Have a heart: go vegetarian.’

Yes, it’s true. All animals do have the same (or at least extremely similar parts). This is the reason that I myself am a vegan, because animals, like humans, experience emotions, thoughts and pain and don’t deserve to suffer. Quite simply, I just don’t think we humans have any more right to treat animals as objects than men have the right to treat women as objects.

However, what PETA seems to be forgetting is that we live in a world where women themselves are still largely regarded as inferior. PETA’s approach is doomed to failure because it fails to acknowledge that inequality still exists between humans.

This willingness to objectify women, even as they attempt to convince the rest of humanity to stop treating animals as objects, has long attracted the ire of feminists who accuse PETA of placing the rights of animals above the rights of women.

But that’s only the half of it. PETA’s approach to animal advocacy has the unintended consequence of undermining, not only women, but also the animals they are trying to save because it ignores the history and nature of women’s oppression.

You can read the whole thing here.

Written by Ruby

July 27, 2012 at 4:55 am

Can we ever laugh about rape?

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Well into its second week, the Daniel Tosh rape joke controversy shows little sign of abating. Though every  conceivable opinion on the topic appears to have been given in the US, it hasn’t featured as heavily here. Naturally, I decided to step in and fill that void. This was published in Eureka Street today:

When rape is a joking matter

Last week, US comedian Daniel Tosh sparked a furore when, warming up his audience for a ‘hilarious’ rape joke, he was heckled by a woman yelling, ‘rape is never funny’. Tosh’s response is a subject of contention. The woman claims he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if five guys raped this woman, like, right now?’ However, the club’s owner says Tosh scoffed, ‘Looks like this girl’s been raped by five guys.’

Either way, the response cuts to the heart of what is fair game for comic fodder. Some feminists say it is never funny to joke about rape because, statistically speaking, there are bound to be rape survivors in every comedian’s audience. Other writers and comedians came to Tosh’s defence, crying censorship.

Taking to Twitter to defend himself, Tosh wrote, ‘there are awful things in the world but you can still make jokes about them #deadbabies’. In this he is correct. Comedians can serve a higher purpose than simply making us laugh. My favourite comedian, Bill Hicks, used comedy as a medium for exposing society’s worst ills. Hicks aimed to enlighten as well as entertain as he told what he perceived as the truth.

But what is the ‘truth’ about rape, and can we ever laugh at it? A friend of mine, Zach Rhinier, works as a stand-up comedian in New York City. When I asked him if it is ever okay to joke about rape, his response echoed that of many feminists, ‘Only if it mocks the rapist, but not a victim.’

Read the rest here

Written by Ruby

July 20, 2012 at 3:48 am

Snow White not much of a feminist after all

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I suspected, going into Snow White and the Hunstman that it likely wouldn’t live up to its promotional bill as a feminist reboot. Gone, we were expected to excitedly believe, is the helpless princess waiting for the kiss of life from her handsome prince and in her place, a serious ass-kicking heroine.

Snow White and the Huntsman promised big and got many feminists excited in the process. Some feminist writers have praised the film for its so-called feminist sensibilities. Time’s Erika Christakis calls it an ‘a triumph of feminist storytelling’ because of its ‘fully dimensional’ female leads.

But does it deliver? Short answer: No. The screenwriters get credit for allowing Snow White (Kristen Stewart), to lead an army into battle against her evil stepmother Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who wants to eat her heart, thereby killing two birds with one stone; disposing of the only woman more beautiful than she is, and securing herself everlasting youth in the process. And beauty.

What had feminists excited was the rejection of the part of the original tale where the passive princess is saved by her prince. Rather, our 21st century Snow White, battles the evil queen literally to the death.

Except this is not really what happens (warning: serious spoilers ahead). Whilst Snow as she is affectionately called, does indeed don a suit of armor in order to take on her evil (aren’t they all?) stepmother, the skills she applies to destroy the queen (thrusting a dagger into her heart) is one taught to her by the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth).  This would be the same Huntsman who shares the film’s title despite being a smaller character than Ravenna who shares equal screen time with Snow. A nod, perhaps, to all the male moviegoers that there’s something in here for them too? Cant be real action movie without a hero.

Then there’s the fact that Snow would not even have been able to engage in this bitter duel on account of being unconscious and all after taking a bite of the queen’s poison apple.  So in actual fact, Snow White was saved by a man, not once but fully two times.

But none of this is as irritating –or damaging- as the film’s treatment of feminism and the beauty, purity and aging (horror of horrors) of women.

First to the feminism. In short feminists are expected to approve of the film because Snow kicks some evil witch butt. But who is this evil with whose butts gets kicked? Charlize Theron’s Ravenna is a Male Rights Advocates (MRA) wet dream, or worst nightmare depending on how you look at it. The quintessential ‘man-hating’ feminist (sample line: ‘Men use women!) who uses her past mistreatment at the hands of nameless men to destroy other men, and women too, because why not?

A favoured claim of MRAs is the ‘feminists don’t want equality they want to be superior to men’ argument and, unfortunately this film does nothing to dispel that. Ravenna hates men. Really, really hates, them. Not just powerful men, or evil men, or the specific men who wronged her. No, like all good angry straw-feminists Ravenna hates all men. She hates them so much she even killed a young, handsome man who was just the type she would have fallen for in her youth and who no doubt ‘would have broken (her) heart’.

Snow White, on the other hand, is as pure of heart as she is of body. In fact, the film goes to great lengths trying to flex its feminist credentials by informing us that Snow is loved ‘as much for her defiant spirit as her beauty’.  Animals are drawn to her. Bridge trolls are placated and humbled by what can only be described as her feminine mystique.  But still the fact remains, she is only a threat to the queen, and therefore of interest because of her physical beauty. Because the queen cannot stand not being the fairest in the land.

And what exactly is meant by ‘fair’? This is not just a reference to physical beauty but purity. Snow White has what the Queen can never regain, no matter how many souls of virgins she inhales- her virginity. ‘Only by fairest blood is it done, and only by fairest blood can it be undone.’ Indeed.

But all this pales in comparison to the film’s treatment of aging, which, frankly it seems to regard as a fate worse than death. But only for women, of course. There are many men depicted in various stages of their life cycles, but this warrants not a mention. Men are permitted to age. Women cannot for fear of being portrayed as ugly and haggard.

The irony of Hollywood making a commentary about the perils of aging for beautiful women should not be lost on anybody. Still, director Rupert Sanders valiantly tries to give Ravenna a back-story that implies her evilness stems from her correct realisation that an aging woman is worthless in a society that values women only for youth, virginity and beauty, but he does all of nothing to dispel this notion. Once the film has established Ravenna is a product of a sexist world that disparages women for having to audacity to age, he sets about destroying her.

As she lays dying, the blood draining from her wretched heart, her face dries up, her wrinkles deepen and multiply and we are forced, oh horror of horrors, to come face to face with the despicable sight of…an old woman.

Despite its new ‘feminist reboot’, what Snow White and the Huntsman tells us is neither new nor feminist. It is, as one astute blogger put it, “an attempt to gloss over the fact that at the heart of the original tale the message is that the aging vain woman should step aside in favor of youth and beauty.”

In the end, 36-year-old Charlize Theron is killed off by 22-year-old Kirsten Stewart. And if that isn’t the ultimate metaphor for the fate of Hollywood’s female actors, I don’t know what is.

Written by Ruby

July 6, 2012 at 2:08 am

Patriarchy, misogyny, and Julia Gillard

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It’s a great feeling when another writer quotes your work. Even better when they begin their entire piece with your name. Best of all is when it is in an article that is as insightful and important as this piece in today’s Age. Written By Eve Mahlab, co-founder of the Australian Womens Donor Network. It is definitely time to shift the paradigm from ‘men oppress women’ to ‘patriarchy oppresses women.’ And patriarchy needs women to perpetuate itself. The sooner we acknowledge that, the sooner we can overcome it.

RUBY Hamad is right when she claimed on this page that hatred of women exists in the West. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the Australian witch hunt for Julia Gillard, the first woman who has dared to become Australia’s prime minister.

Hamad is also right when she writes that patriarchy (usually defined as a system of society in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it) isn’t just men oppressing women, but requires the participation of women. This explains why some of the Prime Minister’s severest critics are women.

Women will recognise the symptoms of patriarchal hatred.

Written by Ruby

May 8, 2012 at 8:22 am

Misgoyny in the West versus the Middle East

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This piece was published in The Age last Thursday (May 3) and was a response to this essay by the incomparable Mona Eltahawy, who, unsurprisingly, has copped a huge amount of flak for her trouble. But back to me, it never ceases to amaze me how angry people get when I dare compare the treatment of women in the West to those in the Arab world. To be clear, I do not mean to suggest that we have it just as bad. In fact I clearer state within the article that we do not. But, our own marginalisation and the oppression of Arab/Muslim women stem from the same place: the fear of female sexuality.

My only regret in this op-ed is that I fell into the trap of using the word ‘hate’ without clarifying what that word means to me. I think misogyny, and any sort of what we call ‘hate’, is really a manifestation of fear and a desire to control. Women’s sexuality is feared, both here and in the Middle East, and there exists in both realms, a desire to control it (often at all costs).

Anyway, here it is.

Misogyny has reduced women to headscarves and hymens.

‘WOMEN have very little idea of how much men hate them,” wrote Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch. So outraged were men that wives reportedly took to concealing their copies by wrapping them in plain brown paper.

More than 40 years later, Egyptian-American commentator Mona Eltahawy has caused a storm with her Foreign Policy essay, Why Do They Hate Us? ”They” being Arab men and ”Us” Arab women. Forget America’s so-called inequality, Eltahawy implores, ”The real war on women is in the Middle East.”

Women, she writes, have not benefited from the Arab Spring because they remain oppressed by the men in their lives who consider all is ”well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home”. ”Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.”

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Not surprisingly, Eltahawy has also sparked outrage. What is surprising is that so many of her detractors are Arab women. Gigi Ibrahim, a blogger and activist who came to prominence in the Egyptian revolution, called the essay ”disgraceful”. Samia Errazzouki, a Moroccan-American writer retorted, ”Dear Mona Eltahawy, You Do Not Represent ‘Us’.”

The consensus is that Eltahawy uses simplistic, Orientalist arguments to ”otherise” Arabs and drive a wedge between Arab men and women. ”Women in the Middle East are not oppressed by men out of male dominance,” writes Ibrahim. ”They are oppressed by regimes (who happened to be men in power).”

This is a facile argument. Men do not just ”happen” to find themselves in power. Men are in power because the patriarchal system that dominates the world favours men by systematically demeaning and marginalising women based on sex and sexuality.

Astonishingly, Eltahawy’s critics have managed to miss her central thesis: men hate women out of a deep fear of female sexuality, which has reduced women to ”their headscarves and hymens”, and it is up to women to wrestle control of their sexuality back from men.

Eltahawy made two vital errors leaving her open to those claims of Orientalism. The first was her decision to ”put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women”. The second was her failure to explore how women themselves also perpetuate patriarchy. Consequently, she divorces the struggle of Arab women from millions of others around the world, thus making misogyny appear a peculiarly Arab problem. In doing so, she unwittingly adds fuel to the myth that Arab men are more monster than human.

As an Australian woman of Arab Muslim background, I have often been struck not by how different but by how similarly women are treated in the West and in Arab/Islamic cultures. In both societies women’s sexuality is treated with suspicion and distrust.

Muslim women are required to dress ”modestly” to ward off attention from men. With the onus on women to alleviate male desire, victims of sexual assault are likely to find themselves blamed for their attack.

So too in the West. How many rape victims have had their sexual history and choice of clothing called into question? How many times have we wondered if ”she asked for it”?

They may not be required to cover their hair or faces, but Western women are derided for being sexually active in a way men never will be, as Sandra Fluke, the US college student who testified before Congress about the necessity of including birth control in health insurance, can attest. Fluke was called a prostitute and a slut by shock jock Rush Limbaugh.

Limbaugh is not known for his reasoned commentary but, sadly, women also joined in the attacks. Political pundit Michelle Malkin called Fluke ”a poster girl for the rabid Planned Parenthood lobby”, while Everybody Loves Raymond actress Patricia Heaton tweeted: ”you’ve given yer folks great gift for Mother’s/Father’s Day! Got up in front of whole world & said I’m having tons of sex – pay 4 it!”

The Fluke saga demonstrates how patriarchy isn’t just men oppressing women. It’s a system so entrenched in our collective psyche that it demands and acquires unconscious participation of both men and women in order to perpetuate itself.

Moroccan teenager Amina Filali swallowed rat poison after being forced, by the courts and her mother, to marry her rapist. Shortly after her death her mother pleaded, ”I had to marry her to him, because I couldn’t allow my daughter to have no future and stay unmarried.”

This mother is not a monster. She has simply internalised misogyny to where she honestly believed her daughter, no longer a virgin and thus doomed to a life of spinsterhood, would be better off married to her rapist.

Yes, the magnitude of Arab women’s suffering is greater because of the lack of laws protecting them. But, while their oppression is different in degree, it is the same in kind. It all comes down to sex. How can women ever hope to attain equality when an act as natural, and vital, as sex is regarded an acceptable means to devalue them?

Both Greer and Eltahawy are correct. But I would change ”men” to ”patriarchy”. Patriarchy hates women.

That some of Eltahawy’s fiercest critics are female only serves to show that many women continue to have very little idea of just how much.

Written by Ruby

May 7, 2012 at 12:45 am

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